- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

One of the four Washington-area Muslims charged with aiding the Taliban attended military training camps after the September 11 attacks to prepare for a holy war, a witness testified yesterday.

Prosecution witness Mohammad Aatique said he and Masoud Ahmad Khan, one of the four defendants charged with using paintball games near Fredericksburg to prepare for holy war, or jihad, against India and allies of the United States, attended Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps with two other defendants in Pakistan, where they became proficient in using such weapons as AK-47s, M-16s and anti-aircraft guns.

Mr. Aatique and Mr. Khan are among 11 Muslim paintball players who were indicted in June on 32 counts of weapons violations and conspiring to aid the Taliban in its fight against the United States.

Mr. Aatique, 30, of Norriston, Pa., is one of six who has already pleaded guilty. He is awaiting sentencing but has reached a plea bargain and is cooperating with prosecutors.

Mr. Khan, 31, of Gaithersburg, is charged with conspiracy to levy war against the United States and conspiracy to provide material support to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network. The remaining three members — who prosecutors called a “Virginia jihad network” — face lesser conspiracy and firearms charges.

As many as 25 players participated in the paintball games, in which competitors fire paint-filled bullets at each other in mock combat. Prosecutors have charges 11 in connection with using the games as training to ultimately join a Pakistani terrorist group.

Mr. Aatique, who attended the Pakistani camps for 41/2 days, said he intended to train for combat, but not engage in combat. He testified that a Muslim’s duty was to “prepare for jihad as much we can.”

Mr. Khan; Khwaja Mahmood Hasan, 27, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen of Alexandria; and Yong Kwon, 27, of Fairfax stayed at the camp after Mr. Aatique’s departure, Mr. Aatique said. He said it was his understanding that “they might go and fight somewhere.”

Mr. Aatique, who traveled with Mr. Khan to Pakistan, testified that Mr. Khan advocated coming to the Taliban’s aid at a crucial Sept. 16, 2001, meeting in which the group’s religious leader, Ali al-Tamimi, sought to rally his followers to a violent holy war against the United States.

When one of the group members expressed skepticism about the practicality of joining the Taliban, Mr. Khan responded by saying that “when these things happen, cowards and weak ones are the first to run away,” Mr. Aatique testified.

Mr. Aatique, a Pakistani citizen, had already planned a Sept. 19 trip to Pakistan for a family wedding, but Mr. al-Tamimi’s speech inspired him to amend his plans and travel to a training camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group seeking to drive India from the disputed Kashmir region, he said.

The Sept. 16 meeting was conducted in secrecy, Mr. Aatique said, with Mr. al-Tamimi disconnecting phones from the wall to guard against bugging.

Mr. Aatique said he now believes that attacking U.S. troops would be wrong, but he had been confused by the paranoid teaching of Mr. al-Tamimi, who claimed that the September 11 attacks were justified and a sign that jihad between Muslims and infidels was imminent.

“I was confused, because I used to respect Ali Tamimi a lot,” Mr. Aatique said. “Later I realized what he said was wrong.”

Mr. al-Tamimi has not been charged.

A recorded phone call between Mr. Aatique and Mr. Khan seized in raids of their homes was played in the courtroom.

A shaken Mr. Aatique tells Mr. Khan that he told the agents “about everything” including the paintball training and the trip to the Lashkar camp.

Mr. Khan advised Mr. Aatique that the line was probably tapped, then claimed to know nothing about the camp. He then advised Mr. Aatique to get a lawyer before speaking again with investigators.

Other witnesses have testified that the paintball games in the woods or open fields of Northern Virginia were light-hearted until September 11. A month later, the men had broken up into small groups that played only occasionally, but seriously.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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